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Remembering Joe Delaney, 31 years later

Delaney Getty Images

Have you heard of Joe Delaney?  If not, you need to read this.  And if you have, it’s time for the annual reminder of who he was and what he did, 31 years ago today.

Delaney, a Chiefs running back who had spent two years in the NFL as of June 29, 1983, noticed that a trio of young boys had waded into a man-made water hole.  It contained an unknown deep end, and they quickly were in trouble.

As Frank Deford, then of Sports Illustrated, later explained it, “There were all sorts of people around, but only Joe dashed to the pond.  There was a little boy there.  ‘Can you swim?’ he asked Joe.

“‘I can’t swim good,’ Joe said, ‘but I’ve got to save those kids.  If I don’t come up, get somebody.’  And he rushed into the water.”

Delaney saved one of the boys.  Two drowned.  Delaney drowned, too.

Joe Delaney died at the age of 24, with a wife and three young girls.

As a rookie in 1981, Delaney rushed for 1,121 yards.  He sacrificed a bright future to help save three young strangers.

If you’ve got a spare 22 minutes, watch the documentary the Chiefs produced to honor a true hero and a true role model.

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56 Responses to “Remembering Joe Delaney, 31 years later”
  1. thejuddstir says: Jun 29, 2014 10:48 AM

    I recall it in detail, it was back when the NFL was made up of men and not a bunch of cry-baby diva’s.

  2. seachicken64 says: Jun 29, 2014 10:49 AM

    Thank you for remembering a great man and a true hero.

  3. cpitch12 says: Jun 29, 2014 10:52 AM

    Wow..that was 31 years ago…seems like yesterday…RIP Joe

  4. 700levelvet says: Jun 29, 2014 10:55 AM

    Perhaps the NFL and the union should use him as an example for the rookie symposium instead of losers like Dante Stallworth, and every other idiot they trot out there… Hello boys. Meet a hero

  5. bcedge68 says: Jun 29, 2014 11:00 AM

    I remember I left for a school trip to Europe that very morning. When we got to London, even they were covering the story. Always amazed by human beings who don’t think about themselves and try to do the right thing even at great personal risk. I had a friend die a year ago next Thursday doing the same thing, trying to save folks in the water even though it put him in harm’s way. The Joe Delaney story should never stop being retold every year.

  6. rickster81 says: Jun 29, 2014 11:04 AM

    Remember reading about this years ago. Nice to see it get remembered from time to time. True hero.

    Did what a real man is supposed to do. Plain and simple.

  7. iamdinguskhan says: Jun 29, 2014 11:09 AM

    Great job remembering Joe! I remember when he came into the league he was one heck of a running back but obviously was an even better person and a true hero. NFL needs to not to forget its true heros not just the ones on the field but ones off such as Joe Delaney and Pat Tillman along with the many others who have served their country and their communities with as much dedication as they played on the field

  8. nfloracle says: Jun 29, 2014 11:10 AM

    Joe Delaney was a true hero. Not many NFL players or non-players for that matter would have the stones as well as the proper set of values to make such an effort to help others, knowing, perhaps, that it may cost one’s own life. Amazing. RIP, Joe.

  9. kd75 says: Jun 29, 2014 11:14 AM

    A “man made water hole with an unknown deep end”?

  10. steves11 says: Jun 29, 2014 11:16 AM

    “it was back when the NFL was made up of men and not a bunch of cry-baby diva’s”

    Are you reading this, DeSean Jackson?

  11. raider8er says: Jun 29, 2014 11:21 AM

    Bravest and most selfless act I ever heard.

  12. gerard33 says: Jun 29, 2014 11:36 AM

    Thanks, Mike.

  13. raidadon says: Jun 29, 2014 11:41 AM

    Heaven was made fer men like Joe.

  14. bensteeler29 says: Jun 29, 2014 11:44 AM

    I just watched the video with my 11 year old son. Hopefully, he realizes how special Joe Delany was and gains inspiration from it.

  15. jayhawk6 says: Jun 29, 2014 12:02 PM

    Johnny Football could use the perspective provided by Joe Delaney.

    He was about Marshall Faulk’s size but, if you can imagine such a thing, had even more heart.

  16. theageofquarrel says: Jun 29, 2014 12:05 PM

    He was a heroes hero.

  17. elmobad says: Jun 29, 2014 12:19 PM

    appreciate the annual remembrance Florio.. hard to believe that it’s been 31 years.

  18. realfootballfan says: Jun 29, 2014 12:50 PM

    Always loved that he sacraificed himself to save those kids although one of them I think ended up being a loser who stayed in trouble with the law. How many people wouldn’t hesitate even though you knew you were going to die in the process for complete strangers, especially when having the world in the palm of your hands like he did? True hero because we toss that word around way too much.

  19. pmars64 says: Jun 29, 2014 1:04 PM

    Clearly, this guy was special, but let’s stop with the “doesn’t compare to today’s diva” crap. Let’s be honest. Most of us would not behave any better than someone like DeSean Jackson or Riley Cooper or Johnny M or another of the countless a-holes who play the game. They’re just flawed humans like the rest of us. They got lucky to get seriously paid to play a game that we wished we got paid like that, too. Stop your jealous whining and grow up.

    The truth is these we have more in common with these players than we do the owners who pay them, the TV execs and stockholders who profit from them, and the countless others who make far more off these players back than the players themselves.

  20. ialwayswantedtobeabanker says: Jun 29, 2014 1:11 PM

    It is really cool that Florio continues to keep Joe Delaney’s memory alive … and much deservedly so.

    Huge props to PFT on that front. Huge.

    Even bigger ups to the late Delaney — who plunged into that water knowing full well he could not swim, but out of immense concern for the lives of other children. That is a true flesh and blood hero – to be honored and respected.

  21. edelmanfanclub says: Jun 29, 2014 1:28 PM

    Always remember this story but forget the name of the hero. What a guy

  22. norcalsportsknowledge says: Jun 29, 2014 1:28 PM

    HERO, willing to sacrifice it all to save others!

  23. santolonius says: Jun 29, 2014 1:34 PM

    America is pretty good at getting the message out to people to drive sober, wear a seat belt, quit smoking… Finding a way to teach everyone at an early age to swim – and swim well – should be a similarly high priority.

  24. fwippel says: Jun 29, 2014 1:50 PM

    Thanks for posting this. Delaney had a great career ahead of him when this happened. His selfless and courageous actions are something I will always remember. It’s hard to believe it’s been 31 years.

    Delaney was a super RB. I still remember a long TD run he ripped off against the Broncos at Arrowhead stadium on the artificial turf; it was, at that time, at least, the fastest run I can ever remember on a football field.

  25. fastrichie says: Jun 29, 2014 1:55 PM

    What kind of JACKASS gives a thumbs down to some of these comments????

    I mean seriously … This guy risked his life knowing full well he could perish, but did it anyways.

    How many of us would do the same????

    Certainly not the guy who’s giving the thumbs down or calling him stupid. (They’re probably one and the same anyways.)

  26. corky2141 says: Jun 29, 2014 2:09 PM

    Unbelievable act of heroism. Why doesn’t he have an award or honor in his name?

  27. micknangold says: Jun 29, 2014 2:11 PM

    I recall it in detail, it was back when the NFL was made up of men and not a bunch of cry-baby diva’s.

    What a stupid thing to say. This is about remembering what an exceptional person Joe Delaney was, not your opinion on the state of the NFL. And if you believe back in 1983 the NFL was full of guys who would make the sacrifice that Joe Delaney did, you’re delusional.

  28. psj3809 says: Jun 29, 2014 2:15 PM

    Just wanted to say as a raiders fan, RIP Joe. Amazing what he did

    The vast majority if comments here are great but sadly there’s some idiots who want a reaction (vaginahurts – says it all)

  29. briang123 says: Jun 29, 2014 2:43 PM

    Thank you or sharing this story. Please do it every year on this day. I recall this very well. I was young and cried to my Mom about what happened to him.

  30. kneelbeforesod says: Jun 29, 2014 2:47 PM

    RIP Mr. Delaney. This tragedy happened at a water park in my hometown. I was a kid when it happened, so I didn’t fully grasp the seriousness of the situation at the time. Over the years however, I have come to appreciate just how truly heroic an act that was. May his act of sacrifice NEVER be forgotten, and may his character be an example for all to follow.

  31. camdenyard says: Jun 29, 2014 3:00 PM

    Thanks for the annual reminder. We need to remember this.

  32. seahawkfanfrom1970s says: Jun 29, 2014 3:11 PM

    Whoever is downvoting these tributes to a heroic man, remember, you are a waste of skin.

  33. peepeetoucher says: Jun 29, 2014 4:13 PM

    Appreciate you keeping his memory alive with your yearly tribute Mr. Florio. Joe and Pat Tillman are the true definition of heros, R.I.P to both and the world is a crappier place without them.

  34. qdog112 says: Jun 29, 2014 4:30 PM

    HERO: Maybe the NFL should tag an aware in his name.

  35. thraiderskin says: Jun 29, 2014 5:13 PM

    I never heard of him… now I have and I’m glad for that. Thanks for the link.

  36. rklapsley says: Jun 29, 2014 5:32 PM

    Every year you post a remembrance to Joe Delaney. And every year I cry remembering this selfless act. Recall it as if it were yesterday!!

    I need this reminder every year to let me know their are real heroes in this world.

  37. mrsryansfamoustoejam says: Jun 29, 2014 5:51 PM

    37 forever! Thanks for remembering Mike.

  38. catquick says: Jun 29, 2014 5:56 PM

    I remember that vividly when it happened. I was awestruck by his courage, as he could not swim.

  39. kuhawks2010 says: Jun 29, 2014 6:05 PM

    Lifetime Chiefs fan, I was 16 years old at the time. Seems like yesterday….

  40. kcflake says: Jun 29, 2014 7:44 PM

    Joe delaney puts today’s athletes to shame.

  41. boltfaninfalconcountry says: Jun 29, 2014 7:50 PM

    I remember the damage he did in the AFC West for those 2 years. He probably would have been a star for a while. He was a hero.

  42. kwjsb says: Jun 29, 2014 8:36 PM

    I hope I have the same courage Joe had if I am ever injected into a situation

  43. coachstram says: Jun 29, 2014 8:37 PM

    Thanks for remembering, PFT.

  44. ialwayswantedtobeabanker says: Jun 29, 2014 8:38 PM

    If there were other people there, why was no one going in to save Delaney and the kids? What is that??? Is no one in that area able to swim, and if so — why are they going in the water?

    I know it’s easy to say — but c’mon. Delaney was too nice a person to go out like that.

  45. skins1970 says: Jun 29, 2014 9:07 PM

    I remember when I heard on my radio that Joe Delaney had died, my first thought was what a great man he was trying to save 3 boys from drowning even though he wasn’t a great swimmer, there needs to be more people like him.

  46. jredshoes says: Jun 29, 2014 9:53 PM

    No Chief has been given number 37 since and they still have a program in Joe Delaney’s name to teach swimming to inner city kids.

  47. berniemadoffsides says: Jun 29, 2014 10:26 PM

    I’m just blown away someone would thumbs down some of these comments. What a disgraceful way to act towards such an inspiring story.

    Keep hiding behind your laptops, cowards…

  48. mauicat1 says: Jun 30, 2014 12:25 AM

    The year after Joe died, my youngest son was born. I wanted to name him after Delaney, but was overruled by my-then wife. If there is a heaven, Joe is there. When my time comes, I would hope that I could go out the same way that Joe Delaney did. What a wonderful example for the rest of us. God bless Joe Delaney.

  49. bornahawker says: Jun 30, 2014 1:10 AM

    The best ever to wear # 37, no contest

  50. jedimasterbates says: Jun 30, 2014 2:41 AM

    I was a kid when this happened, but I remember it well. He was a damn good player from what I remember. What a brave and good man. RIP

  51. raiderbob56 says: Jun 30, 2014 7:48 AM

    I remember this event. Even as a Raider fan filled with hate for the Chiefs, it broke my heart that Joe was gone in such a way. He is the very best of what the NFL had to offer and his daughters can take solace in the fact that he did what he had to do as a man. If he hadn’t, he would never have been able to live with himself. What a difference from some of the NFL self-centered player of today. Rest in Peace, Joe.

  52. DonRSD says: Jun 30, 2014 9:20 AM

    Every year you post this article and every year I read it.
    Beautiful story.
    Thank you for reminding us every 365 days what human sacrifice is really about.

  53. dawgnme says: Jun 30, 2014 1:15 PM

    Thanks, Florio. I had forgotten about this over the years. His is a story that more than needs to be remembered. I believe 37 is seated at the right hand of the Father, and pray his children live every day knowing their dad is the most true measure of a hero.

  54. lscratchingthesurface says: Jun 30, 2014 6:28 PM

    If anyone wants to know the definition for selfless the dictionary should read: see Joe Delaney.

  55. 7dano4 says: Jun 30, 2014 8:44 PM

    An award be SHOULD be created by the NFL in honor and remembrance of this courageous and selfless man…. And the fact that the NFL has failed to do so for over 30 years, disheartens me greatly….
    A Hero’s Hero….
    Let us remember that even though there were “other” people around, this one man, who wasn’t the best swimmer, put “his” fear aside and plunged into certain doom for what turned out to be 1 soul that cost him his own….
    “No greater love has man, than to lay down his life for another.”
    John 15:13

  56. simonator917 says: Jun 30, 2014 11:32 PM

    Heroism entails great risk and/or sacrifice. Just being good at a sport doesn’t make somebody a hero. Joe Delaney is a hero. Pat Tillman is a hero. Michael Jordan was a great athlete and played his best when the (relative) pressure was the greatest and the stakes (relatively speaking) were the highest, but that doesn’t make him a hero.

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